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The Fourth of the July on the Korean Peninsula

While America was firing off fireworks to celebrate its independence, the nutcase regime running North Korea was testing yet another intercontinental ballistic missile. According to the United States Pacific Command this one went 1,700 miles into space and landed 580 miles away from its launch off the South Korean coast line, so if you flatten that trajectory it could have landed in Alaska, which complicates what had already been a darned complicated situation for more than 50 years.
President Donald Trump defiantly responded with a “tweet” taunting North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un by asking “Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?” It’s a valid question, of course, but we doubt Trump’s “tweets” will deter Kim from his nuclear ambitions any more effectively than they’ve deterred Mika Brzezenski from criticizing Trump on her early morning cable news show, and Trump’s “tweeted” promise as president-elect that the North Koreans wouldn’t dare an ICBM test when he got into office obviously hasn’t come to pass. Trump hasn’t yet declared any red lines or stated any demands or ruled out any possible options, which suggests that the more seasoned heads and steadier hands of his well-regarded defense secretary and and his widely-respected national security advisor are exercising some control over the presidential “twitter” feed, and for now we hold out hope for an old friend of ours who lives in Anchorage.
America’s options were always limited to a narrow range of bad to worse, though, and Tuesday’s test seems to have narrowed them further. A pre-emptive first strike on the nutcase North Korean regime’s missile launching sites always carried the risk of devastating retaliatory strikes on nearby American allies South Korea and Japan, the South Korean capital of Seoul could be easily shelled from the the demilitarized zone with World War I-era artillery, and geography has given always the North Koreans an unearned that advantage that made any miscalculation catastrophic. Even if you’re so ruthlessly American First that you’d ignore the humanitarian consequences of bombs landing on such densely populated places as Seoul and Tokyo, you’d have to admit the economic consequences would eventually be felt deep in the heartland. With the North Koreans seemingly in missile range of Alaska and maybe even such densely populated places as Los Angeles and San Francisco, even such a seasoned head and steady hand and instinctive first-strike hawk as well-respected former defense secretary William Perry is saying “it changes every calculation.”
There are still plenty of potential diplomatic solutions, of course, but all of those have always been darned complicated and are lately more complicated yet. China’s President Xi Jiping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin issued a joint statement proposing that North Korea refrain from further missile tests in exchange for the United States canceling a planned joint military exercise, which sounds reasonable but is pretty darned complicated. Trump ran on a China-bashing platform but has been remarkably friendly to China ever since Xi visited Mar-a-Lago and granted some long-sought patents to Trump’s daughter’s business, and by now everyone knows that his relationship with Putin is endlessly complicated, and even his relationship with South Korea has been complicated by his protectionist rhetoric and insistence that the country pay more for a missile defense system that might shoot down something pointed at Alaska. That joint Sino-Russian proposal was a hard enough call in any case, aside from the embarrassing fact it had two leaders Trump has sucked up to colluding against him. Accepting would be a sign of weakness, and undermine a longstanding American-South Korean alliance, and refusing might now prove that that catastrophic miscalculation that the the past 50 years of American presidents have sought to avoid.
Given the situation we’re now in there’s argument to be made that all of those presidents of the past 50 years made some miscalculations. President Harry Truman was the first president who waded into the Korean Peninsula, although that was largely a result of his predecessor’s actions and those of presidents going back to Theodore Roosevelts first adventures in Asia, and for all the historical debate at least it ended up with a capitalist and mostly democratic South Korea and all those great K-Pop videos.
Those communist and totalitarian China and North Korea regimes lingered through the Eisenhower and Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and then the cold warrior Republican President Richard Nixon famously went to China. After Vietnam and Watergate the Republican Ford and Democratic Carter administrations maintained the stalemate on the troublesome peninsula, and although the Republican administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush brought down the Soviet Union they didn’t much change the situation with the commies on the Korean peninsula. The Democratic President Bill Clinton struck a bargain with the North Koreans that looks dreadful and will perhaps look worse in the history books, Republican President George W. Bush didn’t rectify that, and the latest headlines in even Te New York Times and The Washington Post admit that Democratic President Barack Obama also failed to definitively solve the problem.
Now we find ourselves with President Donald Trump facing these complications, and hoping those more seasoned heads and steadier hands of his will somehow prevail at least enough to kick this can further down the road.

— Bud Norman

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North to Alaska, the Rush is On

The great state of Alaska had two notable visitors this week, with both President Barack Obama and a convoy of Chinese warships dropping by. The former was there to whip up support for his initiatives to end “global warming,” and the latter presumably had other reasons.
Whatever motives the Chinese might have for their provocative journey into the Bering Sea just off the Alaskan coast, they were probably more successful than the president. Global warming alarmism is unlikely to play well in Alaska, where the people are more troubled by the lack of infrastructure that has resulted from environmental regulations than they are by the fact that winter nights will soon -23 below Fahrenheit rather than -30 below Fahrenheit, even if the president’s dire predictions of a seven point rise in temperatures prove true, and they’ll be disinclined to worry that the difference will result in any rise of the sea levels. Obama is probably willing to write off Alaska’s reliably Republican and rather insignificant number of electoral votes to use its recently more acclimate climate as means of scaring the lower 49 states into panicked submission to earth-saving regime of brand new regulations, but all the polls confirm our belief that this is unlikely to sway a public that is already paying higher electric bills as a result of all other earlier regulations.
Perhaps Obama’s target audience was the rest of the world, which has always provided the approval he seems to most desire, but that also doesn’t seem to be working out. The big visit to Alaska and one of its recently retreating glaciers, but not one of its recently increasing glaciers, came in advance of the president’s meeting with several northern hemispheric countries on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience, so clumsily named so that the acronym spells out GLACIER, where he hopes to reach an agreement on limits of carbon emissions and other environmentalist bugaboos. Despite all those photographs of Obama standing near a glacier that has reportedly receded a few meters or so in recent years, the governments of China, Russia, and India have already declared they’ll have nothing to do with it. Given the combined carbon emissions of these economies it’s hard to see how Obama will will keep his campaign promise to halt the rise of the seas, even if you do believe his dubious theories of “global warming,” so the time spent on the Alaska trip might have been better spent attending to other matters of more pressing importance.
Meanwhile, it’s hard to say what that provocative convoy of Chinese warships is doing in the Bering Sea just off the coast of Alaska, one of the fully-fledged and great states of the United States of America. Our guess is that they’re testing the extent of America’s weakness, but the country’s government seems to have other priorities.

— Bud Norman

Nothing Succeeds Like Secession

Have you caught the secession fever? It seems to be a world-wide epidemic.
Almost every day lately brings yet another story of some group of people somewhere who have determined that in the course of human events it has become necessary to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another. The latest such occurrence is in Catalonia, the famously industrious and capitalist region of Spain that has now voted to secede from that otherwise lazy and socialistic nation, but the same secessionist sentiment seems to flourish in a number of places for an equal number of reasons.
A sizeable share of the citizens in the countries that comprise the European Union seem eager to be rid of it. A recent poll found that 56 percent of Britons want out, and they aren’t on even on the Euro. Another poll found that only 39 percent of the Swedes want to end their membership in the EU, but only 39 percent want to stay, and the remaining 22 percent were presumably too busy making hard-core pornography to form an opinion. Even in Germany, the country that gets to be the boss of the EU, 65 percent of the people are pining for a return to the deutschmark and 49 percent would prefer to do away with the rest of the union as well. In Greece, one of the countries that those Germans are growing weary of bailing out, 63 percent of the people say they’d prefer to stay in the union even as they grouse about the stinginess of the aid they’re receiving.
Even within the countries of the European Union there are secessionist movements afoot. The Basque region of Spain has also long been a hotbed of separatist sentiment, complete with a very nasty terrorist group committed to the cause. The French-speaking Belgians of Wallonia and the Dutch-speaking Belgians of Flanders have long talked of getting a divorce to seek either independent nationhood or join up with their linguistic neighbors, although it’s not clear if the French would welcome any people calling themselves Walloons. Scotland’s stubborn separatist streak seems to have less support these days, although polls indicate that now the English are hoping the Scots will leave Great Britain.
Quebec has a longstanding and sometimes violent separatist movement, one of the many based on linguistic differences, and in Mexico the Zapatista Army of National Liberation continues to make trouble on behalf of Chiapas’ secession. Wikipedia has compiled extensive lists of separatist movements in Africa, Asia, and South America, and if all of them succeed future geography students will with dozens of new countries to memorize.
Even the United States of America isn’t very united these days. Alaska and Hawaii have both had active groups eager to secede ever since they joined the union, recently the Lakota Sioux went right ahead and declared their independence. There are also secession movements within the states, with large numbers of southern Californians pining for separation from those San Franciscans and other nutty northerners, and a while back there was even a movement of farmers in southwest Kansas who wanted to break away from this fine state. Smaller secession movements yet exist with the cities of the states, such as the movement in three of the more sensible areas of Los Angeles to break away from that crazed metropolis, and the eternal talk of Brooklyn or one of the other boroughs leaving New York City.
Every election brings talk of secession by whichever side is on the losing end of things. This time around the talk seems louder, more widespread, and one dare might say even more serious than usual. A White House web site received petitions from all 50 states, and a subsequent poll commissioned by the Huffington Post found that a disconcertingly significant 22.8 percent of Americans wanting their state to go it on its own. The sentiment seems especially strong in Texas, the only state to have ever enjoyed independent nationhood, but it can now be found in significant measure in almost any state that voted against Obama.
Such secessionist fever can’t be explained in America by multi-lingualism, at least not yet, nor by the usual inter-ethnic squabbling, although there seems to be a lot more of that in this supposed post-racial era. There’s more to it than the usual sore loser talk that follows the elections, too, as that’s usually due to fairly minor differences of opinion regarding policies that don’t really affect people’s lives directly. All the talk of secession that followed George W. Bush’s re-election was from people upset by a war being fought by an all-volunteer military, tax rates they regarded as too low, and a fervent belief that he was an impediment to the blissful utopia they would surely create if only given the chance. This time around the talk is coming from the people who chafe at the taxes, rules, and undisguised scorn of that blissful utopia, who no longer believe the courts will impose a constitutional impediment to its ever-expanding powers, and who are fearful of what’s going to happen when it all comes crashing down.
At this point all of the secession talk is unlikely to lead to action, but the government should take it seriously nonetheless. Governments only work well with the consent of the governed, often they don’t work at all without it, and the sometimes violent urge to be free of even the softest tyrannies seems to be a universal impulse.

— Bud Norman